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€76.5m Shannon tourism plan invites visitors to slow down at ‘tranquility zones’

Amenities to include upgraded marinas, blueways, trails, boutique hotels, glamping, cafes, galleries and museums

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Cruiser and rowing boats on the River Shannon at Athlone. Photo: Fennell / Fáilte Ireland

Cruiser and rowing boats on the River Shannon at Athlone. Photo: Fennell / Fáilte Ireland

Cruiser and rowing boats on the River Shannon at Athlone. Photo: Fennell / Fáilte Ireland

"The mighty Shannon will become Ireland’s surprising heart.”

"That's according to a €76.5m masterplan mapping out the future of tourism along Ireland's longest river to 2030 – the first such plan dedicated to the entire Shannon Region.

Stretching from the storied Shannon Pot in Co Cavan to the river’s estuary in Limerick, and including the Shannon-Erne Waterway, the Shannon Masterplan envisages a future where "slow travel” can attract more visitors and increase dwell-time in Ireland’s hidden heartlands.

Among the ideas for “world-class visitor experiences" are harbour and amenity upgrades, the creation of new blueways and trails – linking Boyle to Lough Key in Co Roscommon, for example – and the possible “reimagining of historic buildings like lockkeepers' cottages and riverside warehouses into boutique hotels, cafes, galleries or museums”.

Boaters could get away from it all at new “tranquility zones", the plan adds – describing floating moorings where people might “moor up or anchor for a time and just relax”, with nearby towns and villages like Killaloe and Portumna within easy reach by dinghy.

The Shannon Masterplan was created as a tourism development roadmap by Waterways Ireland with the support of Fáilte Ireland and 10 local authorities along the route.

While inland cruise tourism was worth around €50m a year before the pandemic, the river’s fleet of cruise boats has dropped from over 500 at the turn of the century to 224 cruisers in 2018.

There has been “a resulting decline in retail, catering and suppliers along the Shannon, particularly outside the main centres of Athlone, Carrick-on-Shannon and Limerick,” the plan says.

Services are “uneven", it adds. Tourism has not evolved to properly service the short-break market, and access to experiences is limited.

However, there is seen to be an opportunity for "slow” and community led tourism after the pandemic, as visitors seek to reunite and explore away from crowded places.

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A map showing the area covered by the Shannon Masterplan.

A map showing the area covered by the Shannon Masterplan.

A map showing the area covered by the Shannon Masterplan.

"The Shannon will invite the visitor to slow down, stay longer and engage with local communities,” said Tourism Minister Catherine Martin, who launched the plan.

It splits the river and a catchment band of 5km on either side into three “Discovery Zones", and points to how the season and visitor dwell-time could be lengthened in a sustainable way.

New cruise hire hubs, upgraded marinas and amenities are envisaged, as is interpretative signage and the development of key festivals and on-water experiences.

Transport and access suggestions include a “Shannon Discovery Bus route” that could connect towns and attractions from Limerick to Boyle/Carrick-on-Shannon.

There is also an opportunity to add "small-scale” accommodation along the 360km river – glamping, “floating pods”, B&Bs and camping are listed as ideas, as is the “conversion of decommissioned cruise boats that could be docked permanently in suitable locations and offered as fun accommodation”.

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Modernising the river’s fleet of cruise boats would also provide an “opportunity to ‘green’ the fleet from diesel to more sustainable power,” the plan says.

"Work has already begun,” said John McDonagh, Chief Executive with Waterways Ireland, who pointed to a redevelopment of Connaught Harbour, new jetties at Athlone and Red Bridge and the Shannon Greenway running from Limerick to Scarriff among other examples.

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